“Corbusier” of Architecture And Morality explores the growing popularity of what he calls “Lifestyle Centers”:
Ironically enough, my town is investing lots of its own resources to build a brand new town-center along its waterfront, far from its historic town square. Why do our city leaders think this a good idea? For one thing, the new town center, while looking and feeling like a traditional urban street, is in reality more optimally planned for accomodating major commercial anchors. There is a cineplex at one end of the development and a brand new hotel and conference center at the opposite end, with “blocks” of retail, chain restaurants with views of the lake, and elegant fountains and walkways. There’s even a landscaped amphitheatre for open-air concerts, and the new town center has recently proved to be effective in gathering large numbers of people to watch fireworks.
Such “lifestyle centers” are growing in propularity in suburbs across the country. They are basically un-enclosed shopping malls, and their thematic architecture makes little attempt to relate the authentic vernacular of histor areas of the towns near which they are located. Our new instant town center by the lake resembles an Italian fishing village with cardboard cutout detailing, instead of the much more native Texas lakehouse style found in nearby rural area. Still, they manage to restore a sense of place, regardless of how instantaneously they are conceived. Older, and often more tastefully built town centers could apply lessons from the success of lifestyle centers.
I think Santana Row in San Jose would definitely qualify as a lifestyle center; I blogged about it last year–complete with cheesecake poster!